A gay veteran has began a preliminary look at running for Congress from the Mormon stronghold state of Utah.

Gary Barkley, who served a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq, says he's interested in representing the people from Utah's 2nd Congressional District, which includes Saint George, Moab, and portions of Salt Lake County. The seat has been occupied since 2000 by Democrat Jim Matheson. In 2008, voters overwhelmingly re-elected Matheson, who won 63% of the vote against Republican Bill Dew.

“Utah is a great state and I love it here,” Barkley, who relocated from California with his family at the age of 8, said. “I have spent most of my life, growing up, going to school, and working in Utah's 2nd district.”

Barkley, 38, enlisted in the Army in 1995 and rose to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Utah Army National Guard.

In Iraq, he served the nation with distinction, receiving the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal for outstanding service.

Since returning stateside, Barkley began speaking out about his experiences in Iraq and concluded that he wanted to broaden his service to the nation.

Utah remains under the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which became a target of grassroots gay activists after its overwhelming support of Proposition 8 – the California constitutional amendment that yanked back the right to marry from gay and lesbian couples – most likely tipped passage of the measure.

Protesters have demonstrated at several Mormon temples since Election Day.

Barkley, an Obama supporter, agrees with the protesters, but says that Utahans are fair minded people. “The people in Utah who would oppose me solely because I am gay would be the same people who actively worked to pass Proposition 8 in California,” he wrote in an email to On Top Magazine. “Because I grew up here, I know the wisdom in the people of Utah: They are practical and fair.”

But Barkley also says the church went too far, calling their campaign supporting passage of Proposition 8 “intrusive.” And advocates for repeal of tax free status from churches who support a political agenda.

During his 14 years of military service Barkley remained closeted not to run afoul of the military's ban on open service by gays and lesbians. “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was instituted by President Clinton two years before Barkley enlisted. It threatens discharge to gay and lesbian personnel serving in the armed forces if they do not remain closeted.

“I lived by the letter of the law ... which states that I could not tell anyone I am gay and no one could ask me if I am,” he said.

“But I was able to push the envelope to the point of purposefully placing the idea that I am gay in the minds of those around me. I wanted to be one more example – among the many thousands of others – which proves that gay people can serve effectively and efficiently in the same foxholes as their straight comrades without causing disruption based on sexual orientation.”

President Obama has pledged to repeal the gay ban, but opposition has quickly formed. Opponents of repeal characterize gay servicemembers as sexual predators. In July, at a Congressional hearing on the law, Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, testified that lifting the ban would “sexualize” the military.

“People who make such an argument betray their ignorance of military culture,” Barkley says. “And for the most part have never put on a uniform themselves. Anyone who has served during the era of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' knows better than to believe that gays are just looking for a hook-up.”

“To be forced to keep something such as the name of your same-sex partner secret from the guy who has become your best friend is heartbreaking. And it affects unit readiness because keeping secrets from each other is never the way to create unit cohesion. That is why the policy itself is a threat to good order and discipline: It isolates members of a unit based upon an artificial and irrelevant basis – sexual orientation.”

Congress currently seats three openly gay representatives, but no senators. On the state level, over 100 openly gay politicians won elected office during this past election cycle, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a group dedicated to increasing the number of qualified openly gay politicians.

“Utah is my home, and having grown up here, I know that a gay candidate can win,” Barkley says.

On the Net: Additional information on Gary Barkley is at www.barkley4change.org